The Complete Story
On May 23, 1953, Bruce Coleman, on behalf of his family, presented his father’s high cut plow to the University of British Columbia.
The late Robert Alfred Coleman had the plow’s mould board, share, and the angle of its beam shaped on the anvil of the late Alex Ross of Bruce Country, Ontario in 1900. It was brought to Ladner, British Columbia in 1905 when Mr. Coleman purchased a farm in east Delta. In 1907 he won his first ploughing match. From that year until 1939 Mr. Coleman and his plow won nine firsts, seven seconds, five thirds, and a fourth prize – crowning this achievement in 1930 by taking top honors at British Columbia’s first provincial ploughing match. He was champion ploughman at the Provincial Ploughing Match each year until 1937. From 1937 until his death in 1941 R.A. Coleman acted as judge at district and provincial ploughing matches.
Dr. Norman McKenzie, president of UBC, accepted the plow from the Coleman family on behalf of the university.
Tom Leach, then Director of the UBC Farm and Fisheries department asked Professor Lionel Coulthard what he planned to do with the plow. Professor Coulthard replied that for some time he had been contemplating putting together a collection of early farm equipment that could be used to demonstrate to agricultural engineering students the rapidly changing technology that had altered the face of farming over the past one hundred years. Mr. Leach responded with “Why not establish a Provincial Farm Machinery Museum on the UBC Endowment Lands?” Mr. Leach and Professor Coulthard tossed the idea around with Mr. Mills Winram, a fellow member of the Sigma Tau Upsilon Honorary Agricultural Fraternity. They took their proposal to members of that Fraternity – who then took up the challenge by providing seed money to register a museum association with the Register of Companies in Victoria and by providing initial funding.
In February 1958 a meeting was held in the hospitality room of the Fraser Valley Milk Producers Association plant with a group of industry leaders to try to determine what support the proposal might expect. Some 35 supporters attended that meeting. Among them were Dean Blythe Eagles, UBC Faculty of Agriculture; Harry Bose, president of the Surrey Co-operative Association; Alex Mercer, general manager of the Fraser Valley Milk Producers Association; Alex Hope, President of the British Columbia Coast Vegetable Marketing Board; Alan Park, president of the Fraser Valley Milk Producers Association; KenHay, owner of Sunny Brook Dairy. Representing the farm press were Ron Tarves, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Farm Broadcast; and J.R. Armstrong, publisher of Country Life in British Columbia. A decision was made that evening that a British Columbia Farm Machinery Association be formed with a goal of funding and operating a museum to be located on the University Endowment Lands at Point Grey.
At a further meeting in April 1958 an executive board was elected. Tom Leach was elected president; Harry Bose was elected vice-president; Mills Winram was elected secretary; and Lionel Coulthard was elected treasurer. Ken Hay and Alex Hope were elected board members. Tom Leach, Lionel Coulthard, and Mills Winram were named Founding Members. The board members at the time signed the original constitution as well as Dean Blythe Eagles and Alex Mercer.
On June 24, 1958 the British Columbia Farm Machinery Association received their Certificate of Incorporation from the Registrar of Companies in Victoria.
It soon became apparent that UBC was not a suitable site for such a museum. A site was finally chosen at Fort Langley near the Hudson Bay Farm. Initially a 30 year renewable lease was signed with the District of Langley on a three acre site north of the Langley Centennial Museum. However before museum construction was started the federal government decided to restore the historic fur trading post. That required the re-alignment of the road to Glen Valley north of The Fort complex and right through the museum’s recently acquired lease hold.
The Langley Municipal Council and Mayor Bill Blair were sympathetic. They were prepared to deed a 33 foot lot immediately south of the Langley Centennial Museum to the BC Farm Machinery Association if the Association could find a way to purchase a sixty six foot lot immediately south and adjoining that lot. The Association bought the property. It took nearly another nine years to raise sufficient capital to erect the original building. Support came from individuals all over the province as well as the provincial and federal governments.
On June 6, 1966 Archie Stevenson, president of the British Columbia Federation of Agriculture turned the first sod for the 8000 square foot BC Farm Machinery Museum. The Association had 115 artifacts in storage – from small hand tools to a threshing machine. The museum contained display space, an archives room, and a workshop for the repair and restoration of artifacts. Percy Weldon was hired as the first curator.
The Museum was officially opened on November 19, 1966 by the Lord Mayor of London England, Sir Robert Bellinger; assisted by Premier W.A.C. Bennett and the Honorable G.R. Pearkes, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
Within a very short time a second 10,000 square foot building had to be erected to house a growing collection of agricultural artifacts. Mr. Ken Hay, a director of the association, put up the required capital as a no-interest loan to purchase adjoining property west of the first building. Mr. Hay held the title in his own name until the Association was ready to build. Another fund raising drive was held. The drive produced much needed individual money donations and more provincial and federal government funding.
Phase three was the construction of the steam room addition. Phase two and three were officially opened on September 23, 1978 by the Honorable R.H. McLellan, the local Member of the Legislature.
Two grants from the New Horizon Program made it possible to construct and equip new basement workshops with necessary hand tools and power equipment to be used for the restoration, repair and preservation of artifacts.
Somewhere during this period of time the Association applied for and received a Charitable Tax Donation Number. This allows the Association to issue official tax receipts to persons making a cash or in-kind donation to the Museum.
The two buildings and property belonging to the Association were taxed as commercial enterprises. In the mid 1980s the property taxes on buildings and property owned by the Association became prohibitive. Mayor Bill Blair and Township of Langley Council again proved sympathetic. In 1984 the Association was granted property and school tax exemption. One condition that was required was to have the word Agriculture added to the Association name. Therefore the name was changed to the British Columbia Farm Machinery and Agricultural Museum Association. Township council also required the Association to add a bylaw to their constitution stating that in the unlikely event the Association should ever dissolve the Association assets would revert to the Township of Langley.
Funding has been a challenge throughout the Association’s history. The federal government for one time provided funds under the Exhibitions Act. These funds were discontinued in the late 1980’s.
Since 1990 the museum has been managed and operated successfully by non-paid staff…. known as volunteers.
Upon his passing the estate of the late Dr. Blythe Eagles, former Dean of Agriculture at UBC, donated his own personal library to the Farm Museum and provided funding for the Association to establish a Technical Reference Library. This library has grown to where there are now over 10,000 books, pamphlets, and manuals of historical information.
A school program was started in 1996. Children and teens may see and experience what pioneer life was like for their great grandparents and what their ancestors used in their daily lives. School teachers bring students to the museum to give them a hands-on experience of their heritage. A popular activity of students and children visiting the museum is to complete a scavenger hunt sheet. . . items are described or pictured for young children on a paper form and the children locate the item in the museum. They discover much valuable historical information in a fun way.
The collection of artifacts by the Association has evolved from focusing on farming equipment only to including historical artifacts depicting all aspects of pioneer life. The Museum collection has grown to over 5000 historical artifacts of farming equipment and pioneer life in British Columbia on display in two buildings and an outside exhibit area.
The Association’s collection of historical artifacts has grown over the years to become the most unique, priceless and largest of its kind in western Canada.
All artifacts throughout the history of the museum have been donated by the owners themselves or by their family in their honor. The Association does not purchase items. The Association may occasionally grant tax receipts for some unique artifact donation. The donors sign releases and the artifacts become the property of the Association. The artifacts may be repaired or restored at museum expense as required. If too many identical items are on hand an effort is made to find other museum homes first. Artifacts are rarely sold.
Due to the increased number of donated artifacts needing display space the Association has in recent years added a mezzanine area in both buildings.
The last few years have been a critical time for rescuing and preserving many items of an historical nature. Old timers who can “tell the stories” are passing away. Artifacts are being destroyed as “junk”. The Association continues to accept, restore, and preserve additional articles every year.
Volunteers have been the heart of the museum throughout its history – some volunteering until well into their 90’s – others for 20 years or more. Mr. Carel Jongs faithfully served 10 years as Association president – the longest serving president in the museum’s history. Since 1990 and in spite of funding issues volunteers have successfully managed, operated, and improved the museum. In one year volunteers contribute over 14,000 hours to museum work! Many directors have a specific area of expertise. And so one decade of volunteers builds on the work done by the volunteers who worked so selflessly before them.
In 2006 as part of the Museum Association’s 40th anniversary celebration, a renovation and upgrade project was started on the inside and outside of the buildings that protect and exhibit this valuable collection. That $320,000 project progressed nicely and was funded by the generosity of individuals, corporations, the Township of Langley and the Province of BC. Without the support of the community the BC Farm Museum Association would have dissolved many years ago.
Exhibit areas are constantly being reviewed and renewed or rearranged in order to do justice to the quality and uniqueness of the Association’s priceless collection. This is and will always be “a work in progress”
Special Event Days happen monthly during the summer season.
In 2010 the Museum seriously entered the technical age. The web site was updated and has seen valuable and current information added regularly. . . an ongoing activity needing frequent upgrades. QR codes were introduced to many information signs throughout the museum. YouTube videos of museum activities were added to the web page. The Association may now be found on Facebook.
In 2015 the Association constitution was updated and revised. It was the appropriate time to change the Association name back to something simpler as the use of the term agriculture was no longer necessary to receive permissive Tax Exemption from the Township of Langley. Today the name is back to BC Farm Museum Association.
In their 50th anniversary year the Association is excited to be involved with three major projects.
Funding was secured and Interactive Presentation Terminals are being placed around the museum. As pioneers are slowly becoming extinct the terminals contain information and videos on the artifacts being displayed in the museum based on the “stories” of people who at one time actually used the artifacts in their daily life.
In 2017, Murals were painted! Local artists had been contracted! The murals depict the women’s contribution to pioneer life, the forestry industry, the early surveyors contribution to BC, as well as the progression of agricultural development in the Province of British Columbia. Artifacts exhibited in the museum are featured in the murals.
A major workshop renovation is also complete. Moved walls produced more room for both the mechanical and woodworking shops. This is the basement area where volunteers spend countless hours restoring and repairing artifacts. Electrical, heating and ventilation upgrades made the work spaces safer for committed volunteers to work in each week.
Throughout the museum’s 50 year history there have been four major recurring issues. 1 – lack of space; 2 – lack of funds; 3 – acquisition and deaccession policies and practices; 4 – leaky roof! Still issues!
Interestingly – in 1980 a report was commissioned by the Directors of the day on museum operation at the time. The consultant came to the conclusion that “too much work was being done by too few people with too little money”. Still applies!
The next major challenge facing the Association will once again be the need for more exhibit space. A third building is desperately needed as artifacts are on display literally “to the rafters”!
The responses from students, teachers, children, seniors, tourists and the general public who have visited the Farm Museum through the years have been very positive. People have expressed great appreciation for the work the Association has accomplished and hopes to continue to accomplish for years to come. Guest book comments support this!
Original information recorded by Ron Tarves, first updated by Don Merkley,
then Carel Jongs, and finally Grace Muller.